Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Americans Against the American Dream: To Be Anti-Immigration Is to Be Anti-American by Robert Tracinski

The anti-immigration House Republicans who just pushed through a massive assault on immigration stand for a giant fraud. They claim to be patriots, acting out of a desire to protect America from an "invasion" of illegal immigrants. In reality, they are promoting an agenda that is thoroughly un-American, both in its goal and in its methods.

It has often been said that America is a nation of immigrants, but few people understand how deeply this is true. It is not just that America was settled and built almost entirely by people from somewhere else--from English settlers in the 18th century, to Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants who came at the turn of the 20th century, on through every other racial and ethnic group in the world. The deeper reason America is a nation of immigrants is that the motives and goals of immigrants--and the moral outlook they represent--are the essence of the American character.

Why do immigrants come to America? They come for the freedom to pursue a better life. They do not come merely for jobs that pay more than what they can make back home. They come for the kind of culture that makes those jobs--and a million other opportunities--possible.

The immigrants I know are drawn here by the distinctively American culture of work and achievement that is the essence of our national identity. America was founded on the idea that all men are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And how is happiness pursued? By hard work and ambitious effort. To become an American, this is the only creed one has to accept: the political ideal of liberty, the economic ideal of a free market, and the cultural ideal of individualism. Many immigrants do not have a full, explicit understanding of all of these ideas. But they do know that they are escaping from stagnant and corrupt nations in which little is possible to them, and they are coming to a land in which everything is possible.

They come because this is a nation where anyone can improve his life through his own effort, limited only by his talents and his capacity for hard work.

That is the essence of what we call the "American dream." It's what most of our forebears did, from the first settlers in Jamestown nearly 400 years ago, to a Polish carpenter named Traczynski (the spelling was later simplified) who came here a little more than a century ago, to the Indian, Chinese, and yes, Mexican, workers who continue to come here today. They all came here in pursuit of the most American of ideals: the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

So why are so many Republicans coming out against the American dream?

Look through the rationalization that these Republicans are only against illegal immigration. These same politicians have spent decades erecting barriers against legal immigration, and they are still doing so today. That is why they have refused to link their crackdown on illegal immigration with any provision to allow existing immigrants to legalize their status, or to allow new workers to come to the US under a "guest worker" program. They are not for legal immigration; they are against all immigration, period.

Also look through the rationalization that the anti-immigrationists are concerned that foreigners come here to mooch off of the American welfare state. Why, then, are restrictions on immigration aimed precisely at those who seek to work? And why do the controls target workers at all skill levels, from manual laborers to doctors and software programmers?

Consider this latest anti-immigration bill. The bill's most odious provision would make illegal immigrants guilty of an "aggravated felony"--the kind of criminal charge reserved for armed robbers and rapists--simply for looking for work in America. But it is not just immigrants who are made into criminals. Extending the provisions of draconian laws aimed at drug smugglers, this bill would brand as "human traffickers" anyone who even offers aid or support to an illegal immigrant. This means that a whole segment of Americans--including employers and even the family members of immigrants--will be threatened with criminal prosecution and jail time. If the problem is that illegal immigrants don't want to work--then why does this bill seek to make criminals of their employers?

One congressman defended this anti-immigration police state by explaining that he is merely responding to the will of his constituents, who are "berserk with fury" over illegal immigration. Someone has gone berserk, but it is unfair of politicians to project that hysterical state of mind onto their constituents. Rather, it is the House Republican leadership that has lost its capacity for rational thinking and self-control.

The real essence of the anti-immigrationists' argument is not that immigrants are unwilling to work, but that they are too willing to work, that they are so eager to work that they will come here and take "our" jobs--jobs that are supposed to be set aside, by governmental fiat, for American workers. Their crude version of being "pro-American" is that they want to protect a supposed monopoly on jobs by native-born Americans, a monopoly enforced at the point of a gun.

This is the welfare-state entitlement mentality of the left, adopted in a crudely nationalistic variation. The premise of the anti-immigration crusade is that native-born Americans have a right to be hired for menial jobs at high wages, not because they have the skills or initiative to perform those jobs productively, but simply because they were born in this country. But the idea that you have a right to a job and a paycheck, just as a reward for being born, regardless of your ability or willingness to do the work--isn't that the worst aspect of the welfare-state mentality of the left?

The message the anti-immigrationists offer to Americans is: you shouldn't have to work hard or compete for a job. You don't have to show your employer that you will be more productive than a Mexican or Indian applicant. You just have to assert your right to that job because you were born here--and your friends in Congress will enforce your claim by threatening to bash some heads in.

Any real American ought to be insulted by this offer. The American dream is not about holding a make-work job set aside for you by a paternalistic government; it is about succeeding through your own effort. The American dream is not the cowering vision of a people who believe that they can never make it in the world if they are exposed to the demands of free competition; let's leave that protectionist fantasy to the French. The American dream is the vision of a proud, self-confident people who know they can make it on their own--and who have often welcomed hard-working immigrants from around the world to join them in pursuing success.

A few weeks ago, I linked to a column by Robert Samuelson in which he pointed out that the myth of "persistent poverty" in America is largely a statistical illusion. The percentage of people who are poor in America tends to stay the same, but the actual people who are poor are constantly changing: those who were poor a decade ago usually rise into the middle class, largely to be replaced by immigrants--who will also rise into the middle class, to be replaced, in turn, by a new group of impoverished immigrants. Some anti-immigrationists seized on these statistics to claim that we could solve the "problem" of poverty in America by blocking immigration. But the constant influx of poor immigrants who work their way up to become productive and prosperous citizens is not a "problem"--it is the glory of America.

This is the real American dream--and we should do whatever we can to protect it from the un-American vision of the opponents of immigration.

Robert Tracinski is the editor of TIADaily.com and The Intellectual Activist.

Source: TIA Daily -- December 16, 2005

[This article is available for reprinting free of charge. For the permission to reprint write to editor@TIADaily.com.]